At 12:45am on May 17th 2012, an alleged unmanned US drone struck a convoy of two cars along the highway from Sayoun to Shibam alongside a lake opposite the radio station of the Thabit / Shibam area, killing two to three alleged Al Qaeda militants and killing one civilian, Moteei Mohsin Bel-Ala. Locals had sighted the drones for at least a day prior to the strike. Local officials have confirmed the strike.
A local security official told Xinhua News that a US drone fired two missiles on a moving pick-up truck as it passed through the Shibam area, killing two alleged militants. The Defence Ministry said two of the dead were local AQAP leaders, naming them as Zeid bin Taleb and Mutii Bilalafi. They were both on the Yemeni government’s most wanted list for terrorist attacks in the country, the official told Xinhua. Twitter accounts confirmed these names.
However, according to a report by the Open Society Justice Initiative and Mwatana, a 33-year-old civilian male, Moteei Mohsin Bel-Ala, a car dealer from the village of Wadi Hashoosh in Shepam District, who happened to be close to the car that was targeted, was killed in the attack. Yemeni government documents confirm that Moteei was a civilian: A letter dated November 25, 2013 from the head of the local council of Shepam District to the undersecretary of Hadramout Governorate states that Moteei was killed by a drone while he was coming from a place called Bohaira, and that he was accidentally killed with one of the suspects and another letter dated July 28, 2014 from the governor of Hadramout Governorate to the leader of the first military region states that Moteei Mohsin Bel-Ala was a civilian who was killed by mistake. Moteei’s uncle, Hakim Saleh Salem bin Shaaban, said that “when we got there, the car was ablaze and body parts were scattered around all over the place. I found his amputated head 20 meters away from the car: the features of Moteei’s head were not affected very much and so we were able to recognize it. The other person who is said to be Al Qaeda member was Obaid Saleh bin Talib. We were shocked and unable to believe what we were looking at. Some of the people who had gathered around the car informed us that they had seen a drone fire three missiles at the car. Actually, there were three close pits in that place.”
Moteei had a wife and two children and was the family breadwinner, he also supported his extended family of which he was the eldest son. It is unclear whether Moteei Mohsin Bel-Ala is the same person referred to above as Mutii Bilalafi, who is identified as being a militant, due to the lack of Arabic translations used in the sources (only English provided) but Moteei’s uncle, Hakim Saleh Salem bin Shaaban specified that the Toyota Hilux was owned by a man called Bin Talib (Zeid bin Taleb above), who was rumored to be an Al Qaeda member and that Hakim Saleh did not know whether Moteei was inside the car or next to it. This report along with tweets reported that the car hit by the airstrike was a Toyota Hilux. Moteei’s 27-year-old wife was told that morning by her uncle that her husband had died in an attack by an American aircraft. She did not see Moteei after his death— neither she, nor his mother were allowed to see the body. She added, “My son creates a lot of heartache for me. He keeps asking, “Where is my father?”
Reuters said a car reportedly carrying explosives was destroyed when an overnight strike targeted the convoy. Hadramout Today reported that “the plane fired about three shots, two of them were seen, when it made two pits on the ground and the third hit the car directly behind the driver.” Local residents said the three killed in the strike were all members of a militant cell. Associated Press added that two men in another car in the convoy were wounded in the strike, although it is unclear whether these were civilians. The Yemen Times referred to the second car as being damaged and “the survived four Jihadists were taken to the north of Shibam Hadramout district by their comrades in Hailox truck twenty five minutes after the attack, according to eye witnesses.” A security source told the Yemen Times that the convoy consisted of two cars, the second of which was damaged in the attack. The source told the paper that one of the dead was a ‘prominent leader of Al Qaeda’ called Mohammed al Raimi. Al Raimi (aka al Raymi) survived a strike in April 2012 and was named as third-in-command at AQAP.
The strike appears to be the first to have been reported in real time on Twitter. A Yemeni lawyer and activist (@BaFana3) reported drone sightings on the social media network before the attack and said two vehicles were destroyed. Bafana later explained to the Bureau that his relatives live in Shibam, a town of 30,000. ‘When the drone struck, the town – which was then experiencing a power cut – had completely lit up. My relatives got straight on the phone to tell me about the attack.’ The Bureau added that others were also tweeting about the convoy, “Arabic-language online media in the provincial capital of al-Mukalla had reported that a convoy of alleged al Qaeda rebels was heading north. That news was also swiftly tweeted.” This incident occurred in “Hadhramaut province, a sparsely-populated former sultanate, is far from Yemen’s troubled south, where most of the fighting and US drone strikes are currently taking place.” According to Bafana (@BaFana3), “there had never been a drone strike. But suddenly four or five days ago, my relatives were reporting drones over them in daylight, all the time, which was rare. Militants were also being seen moving about in the area, maybe preparing the way for an evacuation from the fighting in the south. Everyone was expecting something to happen”.
The majority of the sources that reported on the incident attributed the strikes to a drone or missile attack, with many of the sources specifying that the US was responsible. The Long War Journal specified that the strikes were carried out by the “CIA and the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command” and the Bureau pointed out that “Yemen’s own air force has neither the know-how nor the equipment to launch a precision strike on moving vehicles in the dark.”
The incident occured at 00:45:00 local time.
- Moteei Mohsin Bel-Ala 33 years old male killed
Sources (44) [ collapse]
Geolocation notes (1) [ collapse]
Reports of the incident mention that the airstrike targeted a convoy travelling on the main road between the towns Shibam (شبام) and Sayoun (سيئون) in the Hadramout (حضرموت) governorate. One source also reports the town Buhaira (البحيرة), which is just north of the two main roads between the towns, and mentions a radio station in the area. We were unable to locate this radio station. The coordinates for the area between Shibam (شبام), Sayoun (سيئون) and Buhaira (البحيرة) are: 15.936155, 48.718976.